From Earthly Focused to Heavenly Minded
The Journey to Deep – Part 9
1 Corinthians 15:12-28

We’re in the home stretch of a ten week sermon series where we’ve been walking through the book of 1 Corinthians.  Next week we will conclude the series, but today we’re going turn our attention to the remainder of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.

Today we want to cover one of the richest passages in the entire book.  If you’ve lost a loved one recently or spoken with a person who has received a discouraging diagnosis, or you have some fears and worries about death, then you may find these verses to be very important.  Because for the Christian this chapter has a way of putting life’s most difficult moments into perspective.

The fear of dying is one of the greatest of all fears.  And the will to live is one of the strongest drives that God instilled within us.  But in this passage, Paul will give a lot of ink to Christ’s resurrection because the subject was being debated quite frequently in Corinth.  Paul spends the first half of this chapter reminding us that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus Christ did not raise from the dead and all this religion stuff is just a worthless exercise in futility.

If Jesus Christ didn’t raise from the dead, he says in 1 Corinthians 15:32, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  In other words, we might as well squeeze as much temporary pleasure out of the useless things in this life and forget about moral living because this is all there is.  When you die you die, that’s it…the party’s over.  That is unless, unless Jesus Christ raised from the dead.

Because if Jesus did conquer the grave – and we believe He did – then our focus in life should be on eternity, not on today.  If there is an afterlife, then every day of this life is an investment in that afterlife.  If there is a resurrection – if as the Bible says the Christians will be taken up to be with the Lord for all eternity – then that is life changing.  Our focus every day should be different. 

So because the resurrection is true, Paul offers three suggestions for Christians.

I. WISE UP.

 He begins with the admonition to WISE UP: Your earthly focus is foolish and sinful.

            You see, the Corinthians had been sucked into an illogical argument that it was impossible for Christ to come back from the dead.  So, Paul systematically chips away at the line of reasoning that the doubters and detractors of Christianity were preaching.

We read beginning in 1 Corinthians 15:13: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  …For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (vv. 13-14, 16-19).

Paul is saying that, if that’s the case, then we should be pitied.  Because if there’s no resurrection then every penny you’ve ever given to any Bible-believing church has been a monumental waste.  If there’s no resurrection, then pledging our allegiance to the One who claims to be “The Resurrection and the Life” is ludicrous.  If there’s no resurrection, then every one of us who have ever committed ourselves to ministry – to propagating the cause of Christ and the advancement of His Word – are part of the greatest hoax to ever be pulled off.

But what if it’s true?  What if Christ conquered the grave as He predicted that He would?  What if the disciples really interacted with Him after His resurrection, and just like the Bible said, they actually walked, talked, and ate with Jesus?  Oh yeah, and don’t forget they died martyrs’ deaths, they were so convinced of the resurrection. 

What if the Bible really means it when earlier in this same chapter, Paul states that over 500 people saw Jesus walking the earth after His crucifixion and he adds that now some 40 years later many of those eyewitnesses are still alive as Paul pens these words.  He is saying, “I BEG you to check out the facts!”

What if His resurrection could somehow pave the way for yours?  Would you want to know about that possibility?  Look at 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (Of those who have died, passed away.)  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (vv. 20-22).  We must wise up to those things which are eternal.

You see, this is not some fringe extremist religious group fixated on their founder and leader.  This was and is THE Messiah.  There’s a good reason that the entire dating system for our civilization is totally based on when Jesus Christ was born.  That’s why our whole dating system goes B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D., Anno Domini (In the Year of our Lord).  Everything comes back to Christ.

Now Paul points out two things that we can do to wise up. 

First of all, get rid of bad friends.

Now I don’t mean for you to knock them off, ok?!  Don’t misunderstand me.  But get rid of bad friends.  First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be mislead: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”  We need to choose our companions carefully.

Now think back to some of the early sermons in this series.  Corinth was a very immoral culture.  They actually had a shrine – a temple – where as part of the worship there were 1,000 prostitutes there.  Sexual immorality was rampant.  You had to be very intentional if you were going to live a distinctive and godly life.

And Paul uses the phrase, “Bad company corrupts good character.”  The people in Corinth were very acquainted with the phrase because it was a quotation from the Greek poet, Menander.  And Paul picks up on the wisdom of the statement.  “Bad company corrupts good character” is so true.  It’s more than just something that we say to our kids.  It’s a focused and intentional approach to life that says you will surround yourself with people and place yourself in environments that bring you up.

If you are a married young lady and you run around with others just like you, except that they are miserable in their marriage…  If you run around with those gals as they spend their weekends clubbing and flirting, then don’t be surprised when your marriage begins to move toward becoming miserable. 

Some Christians defend their actions and say, “I hang out with those people and in those places in order to bring them up and to be a good example to them.”  And yes, sometimes that happens; sometimes you do bring them up, but usually the result is the weakening of your faith.  I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said, “Have you noticed that the glove always gets muddy; the mud never gets glovey.”

If you are a man who travels for his job and your fellow employees use it as an opportunity to take a break from their marriage vows or their values…then you be willing to go it alone.  You be willing to turn in early, to take a cab back to the hotel and to use the time for something that’s productive and not promiscuous.

If you are a senior citizen and those people you spend time with are always negative, critical, and complaining then it’s time to get some new friends…or else to challenge them to begin to take the high road.  It is the difference between being earthly focused and heavenly minded. 

The question is what is your agenda?  Is it to blend in or to stand out?  Is it to drift along or to swim against the current?

I like what one pastor says.  Todd Clark says, Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Another thing we can do to wise up is to get to know God.

He must become your focus.  One of our ministry objectives here at First Church is that we strive to connect people to Jesus and one another.  But for a connection to take place you need to put forth some effort.  Our focus should change from the temporal: “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” to: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”  There is joy – real joy – in a deep, abiding relationship with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

First Corinthians 15:34 tell us: “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” 

Being philosophers, the Greeks reasoned that the resurrection of the human body was impossible.  But Paul’s kind of reasoning was very straightforward and crass.  He calls them foolish and tries to help them see that they won’t have a rebuilt body in heaven using the old pieces.  Instead, the Bible tells us in Philippians that we will have a glorified body and yet, according to some stories that Jesus tells in the gospels, somehow people in heaven will be able to recognize and know one another.

Warren Wiersbe points out that resurrection is not reconstruction.

The resurrection isn’t a rebuilding or reconstruction with your used parts—instead it’s a glorification.  A glorified body. 

Paul writes in Philippians 3, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (vv. 20b-21). 

So we need to WISE UP, and understand the implications of the resurrection. 

II. LOOK UP.

But Christians also need to LOOK UP: Your Lord’s return is certain.

He will return.  Christians, be assured of that fact and prepare for His return—which could be at any moment.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” 

Now Christ will return someday.  It is imminent.  He’s alerted us to His intentions and encouraged us to be ready. 

Max Lucado says that whenever he goes on a mission trip, he always writes a couple of new sermons, but that there’s one particular older sermon that he always does because it is very visual, and it transcends any language barrier.  He says that he talks about the law of gravity and then he pulls out three rocks or tennis balls and he begins to juggle them.  Lucado says that juggling is an art that he learned in junior high.  He says that whenever his parents would send him to his room and say, “No television,” juggling is what he did to occupy his time.  Lucado says, “I’m a good juggler today because I was a bad kid back then and I got plenty of practice!”

But he does a demonstration of juggling various items and sometimes he concludes by bringing up a volunteer from the congregation.  He’ll have them sit in a chair and then he will juggle raw eggs over the top of their head.

Lucado then makes his point, because, just like you, at that point they are wondering what the point is.  But he explains that the only possible way that a person can juggle is because God established something called the law of gravity.  The law of gravity says, “What goes up must come down.”

Usually, he will go on by preaching a sermon from Acts 1 and talking about how, after Christ’s resurrection, He ascended to heaven as the disciples are staring into the sky with their jaws down at their bellybutton.  In Acts 1:11 some angels appear and say, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”   What goes up must come down. 

And Lucado will go on to explain that Jesus will return someday for the very same reason that he can juggle…because God established something called the law of gravity: what goes up, must come down.

God’s law of gravity validates Christ’s promise to return.  Actually, we might say that it illustrates the fact that the One who put every law in order and motion had thought it through.  But even more important than that is that He has kept every promise He ever made.  We have no reason to believe that He would break this one and, for the first time, step out of character.

So here in 1 Corinthians Paul reminds us to look up, to prepare for His coming and to anticipate His return.  But the unbeliever scoffs and says to the Christian, “Get a life!  You’ve lost it!  This is just wishful thinking—some utopian existence following one’s death was merely a concept conjured up by spiritual leaders to boost church attendance.”

I am continually amazed that there are people who are willing to roll the dice on where they will spend eternity.  They close their eyes and minds to all the evidence all around them that there is a Divine Creator in whose image we are created.  They deny His existence and they put up a wall as a defense to believing the Bible.  And their denial is usually not based on any kind of study or knowledge. It’s usually based out of convenience and a lack of desire to live self-controlled lives. 

One theologian wrote (Ravi Zacharias), “A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence.  A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God” (Servant Magazine, Spring 1999, pg. 8).

You may be contemplating Christianity.  Each night when you place your head on that pillow, in your heart of hearts you KNOW that there is a God Who created you, who loves you, and who longs for you to be in a relationship with Him.  He wants you to come to know Him closely.  As Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum within each of us.”  There is a longing to have that.  But you know what?  We are approaching a day of judgment and so you can’t keep waiting to decide.

Over the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC is an inscription which puts this life in perspective.  It reads: “One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves.” 

How true!  One day you will either die or Christ will return, but either way we are moving closer to that far-off divine event when we stand before the Lord and give an account for what we have done with the life He’s entrusted to us.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:53 and 54: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable…  (In other words, those of us who are going to die, we need to clothe ourselves with something that can last into eternity.)  …and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”

In other words, when the human pours into the divine and trusts in the divine, that’s when we can be clothed for all eternity.

Now contrast that with the Founder of Psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, who said, “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be.

If you want to fill in a word to describe that perspective, it would be the word: futility.

Now I want you to contrast that with the words of Jesus in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…”

If you want to write a word to describe this very different view it would be the word: hope.

Understand this, Christians have victory in death, over death and after death.

Have an attitude of gratitude for what God accomplished through Christ.

It’s fitting that we talk about that with Thanksgiving coming up later this month.  Have an attitude of gratitude for what God accomplished in Jesus Christ through the resurrection.

I love this next passage.  You hear it all the time at funeral services.  First Corinthians 15:55-57 says, “’Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Christ’s resurrection changes everything and opens the door to a long list of thank yous that we need to express.

Christian author Frank Peretti tells the story of a family driving on vacation when a bumble bee flew into the car.  One of the children was deathly allergic to bee stings.  In fact, he had nearly died from one.  The allergist had warned the family that another such sting could be fatal.

Of course, the boy became hysterical.  And the quick-thinking father pulled off the road, caught the bee in his hand, and the boy relaxed.  But after a moment, with a grimace on his face the dad let the bee go.  And once again the boy became upset and jumped into the backseat trying to get away from the bee.  But the dad calmed him saying, “Don’t worry, son.  You don’t have to be afraid.”

Then the father showed his son the palm of his hand that was beginning to swell, which revealed the bee’s stinger.  The dad said, “It’s okay.  This is what could have killed you, but I took the sting for you.  Now all he can do is buzz.”

So did Jesus.  He took the sting of death away for you.  That’s why Paul could say, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  And because of Christ’s resurrection, to the Christian, all death can do is buzz.

If we understood how sinful we are, and how dire our future is apart from Christ we would be so afraid of death and the punishment of hell that awaits us.  But when we grasp that we’ve been forgiven, we can’t help but be thankful.  Do you realize that when you committed your life to Jesus Christ you were saved from hell, that Jesus took the sting of death?  Just look at his nail-pierced hands to see how He painfully took the sting for us.

Someday in Heaven, for the Christian, God will right every wrong.  He will correct every inequity and cover every iniquity.  He will reward people for things that they did in secret and punish those who rejected Him.

So, how then should we respond? 

III.  STAND UP.

Well, the final response is to STAND UP: Your faithful work is not in vain.

Everything you do on behalf of Christ is important so don’t blow it off, don’t be cavalier about it.  Take your work seriously.

I heard about a woman who takes her work incredibly seriously.  She worked as a receptionist at a doctor’s office.  One time a little man came in and said, “I’m here to see the doctor for an appointment.”  She said, “Third door on your left; take off all your clothes.”  He said, “It’s just an appointment with the doctor; I have a little mole on my chin here and I’m going to have it removed today.”  She said, “I heard what you said—third door on the left; take off all your clothes.”

He said, “We must have a communication problem here…it’s just a little tiny mole right here on my chin.”  She said, “We do have a communication problem; you are not doing what I told you to do…third door on your left; take off all your clothes!”

He said, “All right, all right!”  He walked down to the third door on the left and started disrobing.  About that time, he saw a man huddled in the corner wearing nothing but boxers.  So the little man said, “Man alive…that woman out there, she’s a pit bull!”  And the other man said, “Tell me about it; I’m just the UPS® driver!!”

I want you to take your work seriously but at the same time I want you to also understand something … your work matters to God.  It makes an eternal difference.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

What this is…is a spiritual wakeup call from the Apostle Paul.  It carries the idea that you are steadfast…you are not wishy-washy or fair weather.  Your work – what you do and who you are – matters to God. 

Have you ever had a boss that gave you a research project and then never used it?  You worked so hard on it, but once you completed it your superior never consulted your findings nor commented on your investigation.  It was meaningless—a colossal waste of time.

Well Paul makes it clear in this chapter that if Christ did not raise from the dead, if heaven is a myth, then everything the church does is that same colossal waste of time.  It’s an exercise in futility.  And I would wholeheartedly agree; we’re simply building a bridge to nowhere.

But Paul says, “Not so with your labors for the Lord—your witness.  Your work is significant and crucial to the kingdom of God!  What you do every day through your Christian life is not in vain!  It has substance and purpose.”  This ONE truth – that Jesus Christ raised from the dead – should motivate us not only to wise up and look up, but to stand up.  Let your voice be heard, your example be seen.  Work hard and be faithful in changing this world for the glory of Christ. 

What on earth are you doing for heaven’s sake?  Because since Christ raised from the dead then you can too!  And if it’s true that not everyone is going to heaven, then our work has an eternal significance and an urgency that is worth every ounce of energy and money we can pour into it.

You do not need to apologize or compromise.  We are coming to a crossroads in our culture where people will need to stand for truth.

Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the United States Senate, once said, “If a man’s not willing to stand for something then he’s liable to fall for anything.”

As the years progress, the attacks will continue, and the battles over Judeo-Christian values will increase.  You will find that to be true as a member of this church.  Being a Christian can no longer be a matter of convenience.  Church cannot just be something that you do, it must become who you are.

So keep the big picture in mind, keep things in perspective—stock markets, sports scores, job security, and gas prices will always be on a roller coaster, but all those things pale in comparison to where you will spend eternity.

You see as strange as this sounds, earth isn’t where you were made for.  Heaven is to be your final eternal address.  And Paul reminds us of that when he says in Philippians 3:20 and 21: “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

In other words, we don’t ultimately belong here—with sin, sickness, disease, and pain.  Those who have their faith in God are on a journey – we’re in transition – to someday get to our new home…our final home.

When I was a little kid (maybe three or four years old), and things would go wrong for me, or when I was scared or upset over something, I would climb up in the lap of my parents, and my mom would hold me and rock me, and she would sing a little chorus to me.

Maybe you know it.  Here are the words:

This world is not my home
I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue

The Angels beckon me
From Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore

Some days it seems that the message of that song is underscored to us in a very clear fashion.  We look around and see a culture that is becoming more and more polytheistic, and that Christianity is scoffed at by some as a faith for the narrow-minded, unintelligent.  We’re a society where morals are eroding, and we know in our heart of hearts that this world is not our home.

But it begs the question: Then why do we live like it is?  Why are we more earthly focused than heavenly minded?  Why am I more consumed with impressing you than I am glorifying God…especially in light of the words of the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 9:27 when he says, “It is appointed for a man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV).

You see, God wants you to experience the same resurrection that Jesus did.  He wants us to have that to look forward to because He knows that when that happens everything changes.” 

Some of you may be familiar with the name, Lou Little.  He was a football coach in the south decades ago.  But he had a guy who played on his team who was a reserve at best.  He never got in the game, but he could oftentimes be seen walking around that college campus and sometimes he would be seen walking with an older gentleman, kind of leading him wherever he went. 

Well, a time came when the boy’s father passed away.  And he went to Coach Little and said, “I might not be back in time for the game on Saturday.  My dad passed away and the funeral is out of town and I’m not sure I’ll be back.”  And the coach said, “I totally understand that.”  He wouldn’t miss him from a playing perspective, but he cared a good deal for this kid. 

So the boy went to his father’s funeral and attended to all those needs with the wake and with the service.  And then it came time for the ballgame on Saturday and, sure enough, the boy was in the locker room.  He went over to Coach Little and said, “I made it back” to which the Coach replied, “I’m glad you did.  How was the funeral?”  And the boy replied, “Everything went well.” 

And then he said, “Coach, would you mind starting me today?”  The boy was a running back, but he had never started a game in his life.  And yet the coach felt sorry for his situation, and he said, “You know, yeah, I think I could do that.”

He intended to put him in and to take him out after one or two plays.  But instead, after starting him, he didn’t take him out for the entire first half because the boy ran like a kid that was possessed.  No one could bring him down.  By halftime he had already amassed over 90 yards rushing and he had scored two touchdowns.”

As they headed to the locker room, the coach came round and slapped him on the back and said, “What got into you out there?  I’ve never seen you play like that.”  The boy said, “Remember that man you always saw me walking around campus with?”  And the coach said, “Sure.”  And the boy said, “What you might not know is that he was my father.  My father was blind and today is the first time he has ever seen me play football!” 

That is the hope of the resurrection.  I tell you this…if you are in Christ there is no tomb tight enough, no shroud secure enough, no grave that can be dug deep enough that can keep you from the everlasting destination with Jesus Christ.  And with the saints of old you can say, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  …thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 55, 57).

Do you want to have a hope for the future?  Do you want to go through this life never worrying about death—never fearing Satan’s strongest weapon in his arsenal of evil?  The only way to be able to conquer death is to put your trust in the One who conquered the grave Himself and paved the way for you to have a resurrection.

 

 

David Hall                                                 First Church of Christ                                 November 14, 2021